Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lip Licker's Dermatitis: AKA Chapped Lips

photo source: Wikipedia Commons
As the leaves fall and the wind blows, I know that I will start seeing kids with smiles bigger than life due to red swollen chapped lips. Parents frequently bring kids in year after year with this "recurrent rash" that comes every dry season and goes away (or at least improves) in the Spring.

Dry lips are a problem that tends to worsen with the treatment that comes most naturally: licking your lips. Saliva contains enzymes that break down food you eat -- or the lips you are licking. It also damages regular skin, so the skin around the lips dries if licked, the skin on the neck and chest are affected in droolers,  and thumbs or fingers can get really chapped if they are sucked this time of year. The same theories discussed below can be used to treat other dry skin worsened by saliva.

What can help?


First, stop licking your lips! I know that's easier said than done, especially for kids with a strong licking habit. If you catch them licking, offer a lip balm or suggest that they drink some water. Remember to praise them if they make a choice to do anything other than lick!

Adding humidity to the air helps and doesn't require child participation (since they resist so much of what we do). Even if you have a whole-home humidifier, add a vaporizer or humidifier to the bedrooms each night. Be sure to keep it clean and out of reach of little hands.

Everyone should drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Seal in moisture with a lip balm or ointment. Ingredients such as shea butter, lanolin, petrolatum, sunflower seed oil, squalane, and vitamin E are common. Products with glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or sodium PCA also have been shown to help. The more often they are applied, the better they work, so try to keep them available throughout the day. (This might require talking to teachers to allow it to be freely available at school.) Waxes are good to avoid dry lips, but don't help as much as a moisturizing product once the lips are already dry. Avoid products with eucalyptus, menthol, or camphor because they can increase dryness and irritation. Since flavored lip products might encourage licking lips, I suggest you avoid them. Use one with sunscreen when outdoors. Keep the balm handy throughout the day and be sure to apply after brushing teeth before bed. To avoid sharing germs, everyone should have his own, and I prefer sticks versus anything you dip your fingers into.  It is okay to apply the balm or ointment to the skin surrounding the lips if needed-- for those kids who have a wide area they lick around the lips!

Many parents ask if their kids will become addicted to the lip balm. Simple answer: No. They might use it more frequently as they get used to the idea of using it instead of licking their lips when they feel dry, but that is a good habit, not an addictive behavior. As soon as the weather warms up, we don't feel our lips being as dry, so we use the balm less often.


Avoid evaporation. Mouth breathing dries the lips, so try to get kids to breathe through their nose. Keep the wind off the lips with a scarf. The wind increases the evaporation of water from the skin, drying it out.